This week my son, 17, and my daughter, 15, will be given the opportunity to join their classmates in a “walk out” to call attention to their concerns about shootings in our nation’s schools.
My wife and I spent a fair amount of time discussing this with our children who are now, for all intents and purposes, entering the era of “young man” and “young woman” in their life.
Or, as I cringe to consider, “young adults.”
Neither of my children take their decision to participate lightly. Each of them has their own perspective and ideas about why such violence occurs in the world around them.
They have their own well-formed beliefs and perceptions of the world.
Their parents have tried hard to share our sense of what we believe to be important values and character traits as they have grown through the years.
We have studiously avoided imparting upon them our ideology, political or philosophical beliefs as ones they should feel obligated to embrace.
We have insisted they be kind to people. To be tolerant. To be open-minded and introspective and reflective.
Their worldview is decidedly a different one in many ways than the ones we grew up with as children and adults.
I am okay with that.
When I was my son and daughter’s age I was involved in politics and speaking up and speaking out.
As I set foot on the campus of St. Cloud State University I joined N.O.V.A. – Non-Violent Alternatives – and immediately found my voice in speaking out against social and cultural injustice and many of our nation’s governmental policies at home and abroad.
I somehow got elected to the Student Senate and along with many friends who I have followed over the years on social media we set out to save the world in our own way.
I protested politicians. I wrote incendiary articles for the SCSU Chronicle. I confronted the Administration. I joined efforts to stop Honeywell from making cluster bombs and, until my Mom made me do so, I tried to avoid registering with the Selective Service.
As I grew older my black and white view of the world has found increasingly broader shades of gray.
I worked for the Minnesota Senate. I ran political campaigns. I got elected to the White Bear Lake City Council. I worked for two Mayors of one of America’s great cities. I served as a United States Senate Chief of Staff. I made a living as a federal lobbyist.
Over time I grew disillusioned with my role in this nation’s political and government system. I found myself alienated from either political party.
I have many friends on my political, ideological and philosophical left and right. Many of them, on both sides, deride me for not settling into a place where my social, cultural or political identity can be easily ascertained.
I am okay with that.
I decided a long time ago that potholes, snow covered streets and crime aren’t best addressed through the lens of partisan politics or ideology.
Picking up garbage or pushing back against government overreach and inaction isn’t something that only Democrats or Republicans or Liberals or Conservatives do.
I just find of figure it is what We, the People, should do.
Which brings me back to my children.
And, their decision to raise their voices – and how to do so — to insist that something must be done to protect them and their peers in their schools from gun violence perpetrated by – anyone.
My children are my Heroes and Heroines in my life.
Both my son and my daughter represent, for me, everything that is possible in the world.
I have no doubt they will do remarkable things in everything they do in the long, long lives they have ahead of them.
But, no matter the fact that they are “young adults” they remain my children.
They are my babies
They are the babies I rocked, who threw up on me, who I have spent countless nights worrying about, whose diapers I changed so many times I prayed for the days of potty training.
My job as a parent is not yet done.
My wife and I determined long ago that our job as parents was to prepare our children for a day when they would leave our house to be successful adults in the world.
We hope and pray that, so far, we have done a reasonable job in that regard.
Between now and then, however, there is more to do as their parents.
We have children to protect in this violent world we live in today.
We support our children’s decision to raise their voices in whatever way is meaningful to them.
March, yes, by all means, march.
But, we must encourage them, and us, to do more.
We can’t just march and protest our way to change.
We also must talk about it. We have to live it. We have to engage in difficult dialogue about what it is we can, and must, do to make our schools and communities safe for every child no matter what.
March 16th-18th I am inviting you, and anyone you know, to join me and others for exactly that kind of conversation at my cabin in Wisconsin.
Whether you come for the weekend, or for the day or for part of the day, I invite you to come and be a part of our conversation and dialogue.
We can’t make change unless we commit to change.
We can’t commit to change unless we talk to one another.
I am willing to talk to anyone to make the world a better and safer place for my children.
Those of you who believe that marches and protests are the path to change I salute your commitment to this nation’s most robust tactic of defiance and purpose.
March, yes, by all means, march.
But, when you’re done, let’s get together and talk.